“Woe is me, I am doomed!”
Isaiah 6:1-8, John 3:1-7
Today’s scriptures come from the lectionary reading several weeks ago, which I did not have chance to preach, and both of our texts, Old and New Testaments, are about mere human beings realizing how utterly they were lost or out of place as being humans when it comes to salvation or “entering into the kingdom of God where God reigns.
Isaiah in our Old Testament lesson is widely regarded as one of the greatest prophets of the Bible. His name means “YHWH (Hebrew consonants denoting God, “I AM”, which is translated in English as “The Lord”) is salvation.” He lived in Jerusalem and Jewish tradition says he was of royal descent. He was religious and pious in his own right and was serious about his religious practice. He was at the temple probably praying when he saw the vision in our text today.
Nicodemus in our New Testament lesson was a man of religion as well. He was a Pharisee, a member of Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish religious council headed by a High Priest. He was faultless when it comes to keeping Mosaic Law and was very serious about his religion. In our New Testament text, verse 2 says that he came to Jesus at night.
He went to Jesus at night, not because he was afraid of what other people might think of him associating with Jesus, but because in Jewish culture, the evening was the time for philosophical and religious discussions. People sought holy people in the evening to discuss deep religious issues, seeking answers.
So we can see both Isaiah and Nicodemus were perfect in the eyes of people in terms of keeping the Law of God, — keeping Sabbath, giving the tithe, giving to the poor or reading the scripture or praying regularly. Do you know that many Jewish people memorize their own Hebrew Bible by heart? Isaiah and Nicodemus did not have any problem of doing what was required of them not just superficially, but at heart. As a matter of fact, they went further than what was required of them. Isaiah sought God in times of national crisis. Nicodemus went to Jesus at night for answers for the questions he had been having about the kingdom of God. We have to note here that these people were seriously seeking out divine guidance and about the kingdom of God. Kingdom of God or salvation is not just given to those people who do not seek. We have to seek and seek and knock, then, God would answer our searching for God. In other words, just coming to church on Sunday does not guarantee our salvation. We have to encounter God knowing who God is, personally.
Both of them realized their finite condition as humans when they encountered divine presence. No matter what they do, they come far short of God’s glory, they realized. They realized that they cannot accomplish salvation on their own.
Let’s go to our text in detail. Isaiah chapter 6: 1 says, “In the year of King Uzziah died…” which was 742 years ago before Christ, Isaiah came to the temple and prayed out of fear and concern for his nation, the Southern kingdom of Israel. King Uzziah had been a good king except for his latter years, reigning in Jerusalem for 52 long years. The nation had been prosperous and expanding its territories and people lived in luxury under his kingship. With his death the hopes of many probably seemed dashed, becoming disheartened. Good King Uzziah was dead—and his wicked son would now take over! What would become of his nation, Isaiah probably was worried, and while he was praying he “saw God was sitting on a throne”! The verb “saw” means literally Isaiah “saw” in a physical sense and was observing Adonay, another term for God, signifying lord or master, the sovereign, “sitting”, which means in Hebrew “rule”. In other words, Isaiah saw and realized that it is God who is the Lord, the Master, the sovereign rules the universe, heaven, and earth. It was an eye-opening experience for Isaiah realizing that it is God who reigns his nation Israel, not the king or anyone else.
Do we know that although there are talks of wars threatening with nuclear weapons, it is God who reigns? One Iranian president swore to wipe Israel off of the map, but do they know that it is God who reigns? We had a situation at Saint Louis Children’s Hospital that the doctors could not stop the blood that was losing in a 21 year -old body. One of the doctors asked the chaplain who was watching the monitor of the patient from the outside of the room pray for them. He knew that it is God, not doctors, has the ultimate saying in the matter of life and death. Do we know that God is the master of our lives although we might think that we are the master of our lives? In the throne of our heart who is sitting, us or God?
This God, “high” and “lifted up” in absolute sovereignty, fills the temple completely, signifying the dominance of the Lord of Glory.
Verse 2 seraphim (from Seraph, “to burn”) are attending the LORD as ministering servants, and they had six wings. Two covered the angel’s face—such is the nature of God that even angels could not bear to look at Him, too holy to behold—Seraphim are the holiest creatures that God created. We humans cannot even look at them without falling before them, as we see in biblical figures encountering God’s angels–, two covered their bodily parts in humility and with two they flew, serving.
Verse 3 says that these seraphim cry out continually to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts (Yahweh of Armies); the whole earth is full of His glory!” The word “holy” means “distinct, unique, set apart.” It means there is no one or nothing like the LORD in the universe. The threefold use of the term, “holy, holy, holy” is a Hebrew way of expressing the highest and perfect degree—He is incomparably holy, no one is holy but God is!!!
IN THE PRESENCE OF ABSOLUTE HOLINESS, Verse 5, Isaiah was struck with the knowledge of his own sinfulness. “Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips.” Hebrew “woe” is a wail of lamentation. It is an expression that cries out of distress, that all is lost, that grief will overtake; there is nothing that can be done.
The key word in here is “unclean” (tame’). Remember? If anyone is “unclean”, they cannot enter the sanctuary? It comes from the temple liturgy and ritual, telling about God and humans that they are not at the same level. No creation can stand in the presence of God the creator. To be “unclean” means more than being just sinful; it means off-limits, out of bounds, unacceptable in the presence of God because of physical, earthy nature and contaminations. In other words, no matter what we do, how good we think, as humans from ashes and dust, we are unacceptable in the presence of God.
When Isaiah cried out in despair realizing his unacceptable, sinful and contaminated condition which would only lead to total destruction, an angel brought a live coal he had taken from the altar, and he touched his lips with it and said:
“Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.”
A “live coal” from the fire of the altar has touched the lips of Isaiah and his iniquity was taken away and his sin was purged. What does it mean? We have to note here that this live coal was taken from the altar of sacrifice. In other words, the coals were the instrument of consuming the sacrifices that became the sin offering. As we all know, the Jews expected pardon in no other mode than by sacrifice; and the offering on their altar pointed to the great sacrifice which was to be made on the cross for the sins of humans.
In other words, live coal is a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice by which atonement and removal of sins are made for humans, again this text is about none other than Jesus the Christ, his cleansing blood that saves us from our sins. Only by the blood of Jesus Christ, we can be perfected to stand before the great throne of God.
The fire which is also the emblem of the Holy Spirit, when we are cleansed by the blood of Christ and being with the Holy Spirit, only then we can hear the voice of God. Otherwise, we cannot. If we do not know the saving grace of God, if we are not filled with the Holy Spirit, we cannot understand the bible we read, which is the voice of God. If we are not cleansed from our sins and Holy Spirit is not with us, every Sunday even if we listen to the words of God, we cannot understand, we cannot hear the voice of God.
When we hear the voice of God, we know that we are sent to preach the gospel to the people around us. Romans 10:14, “Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But then how can they call on the name of the Lord, if they cannot believe? How can they believe if they are not heard? How can they hear without someone preaching to them?” That someone is us who are cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ and who are filled with the Holy Spirit. People around us, our own family members, relatives, neighbors, and coworkers, we need to share God’s message with those people around us. And that message might not necessarily sweet to people’s ears. Would people be happy to hear that everyone is a sinner? Some people might say, ‘I am not a sinner, I am not like those people that are in the prison or someone I know. But if we are in Christ, we become convinced that how we are prone to sin. We do not love our people. We criticize, judge, we secretly hold grudges against others….. I sin every day… We need Christ’s blood every day to cleanse our sins. The more we are sensitive to the promptings of Holy Spirit, the more we are convinced of our sinful nature and our need for God’s mercy and grace. Knowing that Christ has died for us, we need to preach God’s message since it leads people to salvation. ….